Two students have been awarded McGill’s Centre culturel Islamique de Québec (CCIQ) Memorial Award.
Mashaal Oturkar, a student in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Science, and Arij Soufi, enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, are the award’s co-recipients.
This was the first time in the award’s five-year history that it’s been bestowed upon more than one student.
“Even with two [winners], the choice was not easy,” says Ehab Lotayef, a member of the selection committee and a Systems Administrator in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We had a strong pool of applicants.”
The Award recognizes students who demonstrate a commitment to fostering the inclusion of Muslims within Quebec and Canadian society. It was established in 2018 to commemorate the six men who lost their lives in the massacre at the Centre culturel Islamique de Québec on January 29, 2017.
To say that Mashaal Oturkar has a diverse range of passions is an understatement. She’s interested in everything from art to archery to coding to music.
“I was always into the creative arts,” says Oturkar, who completed a semester of art school before enrolling at McGill. “It helps you widen your perspective and discover your talents.”
When she moved from Dubai to Toronto for high school, she discovered MY Voice Canada, a non-profit organization providing creative outlets for Muslim youth. “I went from illustrating and making comics to designer, to head designer, to rebranding the whole organization.”
Oturkar has also acted in a MY Voice stage play and produced content for their YouTube page. In her first video, included in their Race Against Racism series, she interviewed a Black youth activist to discuss racism in Canada. Now she’s directing a documentary short, Not Just a Mosque, featuring the Canadian Institute of Islamic Civilization (CIIC) in downtown Montreal.
“It’s a mosque and community centre run by youth, which I found really impressive. People have such a limited view of what a mosque is sometimes, but the CIIC creates a real sense of family and belonging.”
Bringing together Muslims at Mac
Oturkar is working to bring that same sense of belonging to McGill – specifically to Macdonald campus, where she established the Macdonald Campus Muslim Student Association. “It’s a stepping stone, enabling students to support one another, share experiences, and contribute to the larger community.”
Now in her final year of study with internships already lined up, there’s no doubt that she’ll continue to support the Muslim community in whatever she does next.
“Bringing people together and building inclusive communities is my passion,” Oturkar says. “My voice has given me so much, but I’m ready to take it to the next step.”
When Arij Soufi was a pre-Med student, she attended a McGill event that featured a panel of Muslim physicians discussing their faith and their clinical practices.
“That was the first time in medicine where I felt I could carve a space for myself,” says Soufi. “It really stayed with me. I thought I’d found my little niche.”
Unfortunately, the student group that organized the event went dormant during COVID, so Soufi helped establish a new iteration: the McGill Chapter of the Muslim Medical Association of Canada (MMAC).
She currently serves as its co-president, organizing events such as a Ramadan iftar in conjunction with the McGill Muslim Law Students Association and the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association.
“In professions where there hasn’t been a lot of diversity historically, such as in law and medicine, mentorship is very important,” says Soufi. “Collaborating with people who understand the unique realities of being Muslim in these professions was really heartwarming.”
Taking the road less travelled
Soufi is now in her final year of medical school, and her next steps would typically involve applying to residency training. Instead, she’s put those plans on hold to pursue a master’s degree in race and colonialism.
“It’s a bit of an unconventional path, but it aligns perfectly with my goals,” she says. “I want to be not only a physician, but also an educator. I want to reinvent the way we teach race and racism to medical students.”
Her decision was inspired by her experience serving on McGill’s equity committees – first for the Students’ Society of McGill University and then for the Medical Student’s Society. In addition to advocating on behalf of marginalized communities, she designed and led the workshop Race and Colonialism in Medicine, which she hopes to see added to the curriculum. “That’s still a work in progress, but it’s the project I’m most proud of from my time in medical school. It shaped me into the advocate I am today.”
Mashaal Oturkarand Arij Soufi were presented with their awards at McGill’s commemorative event for the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City mosque attack and action against Islamophobia on January 29. Watch the video of the commemorative event.